Schools are ulti­mately most respon­sible for heading off school bul­lying, according to the con­clu­sion of a public debate involving stu­dents from the Boston Public Schools and North­eastern University.

High-​​profile cases across the United States have brought bul­lying to the fore of public con­cern, which is why North­eastern col­lab­o­rated with the Boston Debate League (BDL) to hold the informal debate on bul­lying and pos­sible pre­ven­tion methods.

Tack­ling Bul­lying: From Tor­menting to Talking” was cospon­sored by Northeastern’s Depart­ment of Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Studies and the BDL. Stu­dents from assis­tant pro­fessor J. David Cis­neros’ serving-​​Learning course, “Argu­men­ta­tion and Debate,” paired up with Boston high school stu­dents who are BDL members.

My stu­dents learned a lot about the com­mu­nity that North­eastern is part of, the types of issues it faces and the ways that they can be involved to make a dif­fer­ence,” Cis­neros said.

The Depart­ment of Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Studies and the School of Law have been active part­ners with the debate league for sev­eral years, working with stu­dents and hosting sem­i­nars over the summer and during the school year.

The debate high­lighted Northeastern’s com­mit­ment to com­mu­nity engage­ment, pro­vided an expe­ri­en­tial learning oppor­tu­nity for stu­dents, and forged stronger rela­tion­ships with com­mu­nity organizations.

At the debate, teams of two stu­dents each argued for three dif­ferent posi­tions — that par­ents, schools or gov­ern­ment should be pri­marily respon­sible for pre­venting school bul­lying. Judges and the audi­ence found the “schools” argu­ment most convincing.

How­ever, Cis­neros and the judges agreed that elim­i­nating bul­lying must involve all three.

Bul­lying is a very big problem right now that needs to be resolved as soon as pos­sible,” added Ais­saca Barry, a senior at Boston Eng­lish High and debate league member. “This debate is a great start to fig­uring out the best way to do that.”

Cis­neros added, “You need par­ents involved at home, edu­cating their chil­dren and mon­i­toring them. You need the schools involved to help edu­cate the stu­dents and keep them safe, and then you need the gov­ern­ment as the last back­stop — in the case that some­thing tragic hap­pens, it can step in to ensure that jus­tice is done.”

Over the past semester, the North­eastern stu­dents have applied their class­room learning about argu­men­ta­tion theory and prac­tice in working with the BDL, serving as vol­un­teer judges at monthly stu­dent debate tournaments.

Cis­neros said that the part­ner­ship has been a “very enriching” expe­ri­ence for his stu­dents, who have learned “just as much, if not more, from the (debate league) stu­dents as they have from me.”

Steve Stein, exec­u­tive director of the Boston Debate League, said these debates are an “incred­ibly empow­ering expe­ri­ence” for stu­dents who attend Boston public schools and helps them “feel they have a place in the larger community.”